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7-17-12 Charter School Approvals limited
NJ Spotlight - DOE Grants Final Charters to Just Nine Schools…Some of the schools that didn't make the list may be the most interesting of all Star Ledger - N.J.'s first online charter school delayed a year

NJ Spotlight - DOE Grants Final Charters to Just Nine Schools…Some of the schools that didn't make the list may be the most interesting of all

NJ  Spotlight - DOE Grants Final Charters to Just Nine Schools…Some of the schools that didn't make the list may be the most interesting of all

Star Ledger - N.J.'s first online charter school delayed a year


NJ  Spotlight - DOE Grants Final Charters to Just Nine Schools…Some of the schools that didn't make the list may be the most interesting of all

By John Mooney, July 17, 2012 in Education|2 Comments

The Christie administration yesterday put out a short list of charter schools given final approval to open in the fall, but more interesting was the far longer list of those not getting the go-ahead.

Nine schools were granted final charters, according to the announcement from the state Department of Education late yesterday, including four in Newark and two in Camden.

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More notable was the department’s decision to postpone 10 other school openings for another year, including the state’s first all-online schools. Another 13 schools that it had approved earlier were outright rejected.

Among those 13 were two suburban charters -- Regis Academy Charter School and Princeton International Academy Charter School -- that had been at the center of intense community disputes over the past year. Other schools on the list contended that they had met all the state's demands.

In letters to some of the schools, the department said they had been given an extra “planning year” or rejected because they were simply not ready to open.

But with some already contesting that claim yesterday, the debate is unlikely to be over.

“We know we were working against the tide on this, with people not wanting us to happen,” said Michael Pallante, board chairman of the NJ Virtual Academy Charter School, an online school that was told it would have to take a second planning year.

“We were ready to go, we worked really hard putting this together,” he said. “We’re disappointed, we’re disappointed for the 850 kids and families who were counting on this.”

‘High Bar’ Set for NJ Schools

Yesterday’s announcement had been eagerly anticipated, with a total of 32 schools on the list to potentially receive their final charters this summer, by far the biggest class yet of new schools.

Each had received preliminary approval from the state, but the process calls for the state to do a final review before a final charter is granted.

The decisions on the final charters were particularly sensitive this year, with the virtual schools on the lists and a number of suburban ones up for their final OK.

In the end, acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf approved some that had been expected and rejected others, stressing a renewed process that he said would set a “high bar” for any school allowed to open and stay open.

“We must hold a high bar for any school that serves New Jersey students, and we are confident that [the approved] schools have the academic and operational components in place to provide a high-quality choice on day one,” Cerf said in a statement.

Of the nine schools that were awarded their final charter, all but one are located in urban communities. Two will use a hybrid of online learning and face-to-face teaching:

·         City Invincible Charter School, Camden

·         Knowledge A to Z Charter School, Camden

·         Thomas Edison Energy Charter School, Franklin (Somerset), South Brunswick and North Brunswick

·         Beloved Charter School, Jersey City

·         Merit Preparatory of Newark Charter School, Newark

·         Newark Prep, Newark

·         Paulo Freire Charter School, Newark

·         100 Legacy Charter School, Newark

·         Benjamin Banneker, Willingboro

On-line Charters Must Wait Another Year

The fate of the all-online charters was the biggest question going into the announcement. Cerf was tight-lipped on what he would do with schools that were not anticipated when the state’s charter school law was enacted in 1995, but had also indicated that they could be accommodated.

Meanwhile, criticism mounted about the online schools, with a coalition of education groups urging Cerf to hold off approving them, to the point of threatening to take the administration to court. Both schools were to be working in conjunction with K12 Inc., the nation’s largest online education company, stirring up even more debate.

In the end, Cerf ended up landing somewhere in between, deciding not to reject them outright but also putting off a final decision for another year.

In a letter to Pallante of the NJ Virtual Academy Charter School, Cerf’s office cited a number of technical points, including the online school’s failure to put in a place a food services contract -- itself an obvious challenge with students learning in their homes.

“The Board of Trustees and founders of New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School have failed to meet the necessary statutory and regulatory requirements to gain final approval for opening in 2012,” Cerf wrote in the letter.

Reached last night, Pallante said that the school -- serving students in kindergarten through high school -- had met all the state’s demands through what was a laborious review process, adding any that fell short could easily be rectified.

“There was always one thing or another,” said Pallante, a longtime public educator in Newark schools, most recently as principal of the Robert Treat Academy Charter School.

“But I can’t imagine there wasn’t something we could have tied together in a day or two,” he said. “We had always done what was asked of us.”

Now he’s being requested to alert families that the school will be unable to open this year, no light task with 850 students all but enrolled and another few hundred on waiting lists. The school had started hiring staff as well, including an out-of-state principal.

“We had a principal from Arkansas who had taken up residence here, ready to go,” he said. “I’m at a loss for words.”

The other online school was more specialized, focusing on at-risk high school students in four targeted communities. Operating out of the Monmouth-Ocean Special Services Commission, it had said it would seek a planning year after it was unable to secure the names of enough students.

Suburban Charters Denied

Other schools notable for their appearance on the rejected outright list were two that have been the subject of intense community opposition in the suburbs, sparking new debate on whether charter schools should be permitted in otherwise functioning districts -- Regis Academy Charter School in Cherry Hill and Princeton International Academy Charter School in Princeton, South Brunswick, and West Windsor-Plainsboro.

Neither was likely to be ready to open this year, with both facing challenges in securing facilities. But Cerf, in his letter to Princeton International, for instance, said it wasn’t just facilities for the school that would be the state’s first public Chinese language immersion program.

“The school has failed to make even minimal progress toward compliance with criteria necessary to gain final approval,” Cerf wrote to the school’s founders.

“Based on these findings, I am denying your request for a third planning year and will not be granting a charter to Princeton International Academy Charter School.”

Efforts to reach the founders yesterday were unsuccessful.

Judith Wilson, superintendent of Princeton Regional public schools and one of Princeton International's chief critics, said last night it was about time that the state pulled the plug. The charter had already seen two planning years, each time forcing Princeton and the other host districts to set aside funds for the school.

“There has to be an end of the line, where they’ve had multiple years to find students, set a curriculum, and find a facility,” Wilson said. “I think this was a case of the standard being fairly applied.”


Star Ledger - N.J.'s first online charter school delayed a year

Published: Monday, July 16, 2012, 6:04 PM Updated: Monday, July 16, 2012, 9:32 PM

By Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-LedgerThe Star-Ledger

NEWARK — The state’s first proposed full-time virtual charter school will have to wait at least year to begin educating students.

The state Department of Education today announced approval of nine new charter schools for September, but said the New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School, a full-time online charter school, would instead be given a "planning" year to further develop "academic and operational components."

However, two offering a mix of online and traditional learning did receive approval. Both Newark Prep and Merit Preparatory of Newark Charter School intend to offer "blended" learning in a school setting, Newark Prep serving high school students, and Merit Prep starting by enrolling sixth-graders.

Another full-time virtual school, Monmouth County-based New Jersey Virtual Charter School, requested an additional planning year, as did Merit Preparatory of Trenton, also a blended school.

Seven "regular" charter schools were also approved to open in September, following a final "preparedness" review. This will bring the state total of charter schools 86.

"We must hold a high bar for any school that serves New Jersey students," said acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf.

Debate over virtual charter schools has been building up steam in the state in recent months. Eight education advocacy groups last week wrote to Cerf opposing approval of virtual schools, raising objections from the cost, to the fact they say the state does not have legislative authority to approve online charters under existing law.

"This new form of charter school was never contemplated, and has never been authorized, by the Legislature," said the letter signed by the Newark-based Education Law Center, New Jersey Education Association, the New Jersey School Boards Association and five other organizations.

They also warned of "educational chaos" if virtual schools are approved and "the agency’s actions are later determined by the courts to be unlawful."

The New Jersey Virtual Academy Charter School had been recruiting students for months and intended to open this fall for 850 students in grades K-10, according to Jeff Kwitowski, a spokesman at Virginia-based K12, a for-profit online learning company. The company would contract to provide curriculum and other services at the school.

The Virtual Academy school board would be headed by Michael Pallante, former principal of Robert Treat Academy charter school in Newark.

"Parents want school options for their children," Kwitowski said. "It’s not for every student, but it can be a great option for many kids."

Pallante could not be reached for comment today.

K12, however, is expected to provide curriculum and services to Newark Prep.

Other attempts have been made to slow down virtual schools in New Jersey. A bill proposing a one-year moratorium on virtual charters was passed by the Assembly last month, but no similar action took place in the Senate.

Assembly Education Chairman Patrick Diegnan, (D-Middlesex), today noted that while the "blended" schools are moving ahead, the planning year buys some time. "Let’s hope calmer minds will prevail, and have a thorough review of the entire issue," he said.

Other charter schools approved to open in September are City Invincible and Knowledge A to Z, both in Camden; Thomas Edison Energy Charter School, in Franklin Township, North Brunswick and South Brunswick; Beloved Charter School in Jersey City; Paulo Freire Charter School and 100 Legacy in Newark; and Benjamin Banneker in Willingboro.

A total 13 schools were given planning years, and 10 were denied approval. Among those turned down were Princeton International Academy in the Princeton area, and Shalom Academy in Teaneck.


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